What I Read in 2016

I had this lovely goal of writing something super poignant for my first post of 2017, but man. I am so busy that my brain doesn’t have a lot of space for poignant. So instead, I thought I would do my yearly “What I Read” post.

I took the GoodReads Challenge again, but I set my goal for 35 books. In 2015 I set my goal for 25, but ended up reading 35, so I figured I could do it again. I surpassed the goal handily by reading a total of 44 books! It helps that I love Young Adult Lit and some of those can be read super fast. In fact, it’s only January 6 and I’m already on my second book of the year.

What I Read

Anyway, this is the list of books I read last year in the order I read them. The ones in BOLD are the ones I recommend (although there were only a couple I was “meh” about, so go ahead and check them all out and let me know if you read them and what you think. The ones wit (YA) are young adult lit. (P) are novels that are written in verse/poetry. (N) are nonfiction.

  1. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
  2. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (YA)
  3. Rush by Jonathan Friesen (YA)
  4. Looking for Alaska by John Green (YA)
  5. Somewhere Safe with Someone Good by Jan Karon
  6. Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
  7. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (YA) (N)
  8. Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick  (YA)
  9. Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman (YA)
  10. The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle (YA) (P)
  11. My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson (YA)
  12. Far From Home by Na’ima B Robert (YA)
  13. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (YA)
  14. Letters for Scarlet by Julie C. Gardner
  15. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (N)
  16. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  17. Parrot in the Oven by Victor Martinez (YA)
  18. A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer (YA)
  19. Send Me Down a Miracle by Han Nolan (YA)
  20. What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman (YA)
  21. The Long Season of Rain by Helen S. Kim (YA)
  22. The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte by Jennie Goutet
  23. Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman (YA)
  24. Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want to Read and Why We Should Let Them (N)
  25. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (YA) (first in a trilogy)
  26. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  27. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (N)
  28. Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan
  29. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt (YA)
  30. Reading Ladders: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We’d Like Them to Be by Teri S. Lesesne (N)
  31. Godless by Pete Hautman (YA)
  32. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA) (first in a trilogy)
  33. Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (N)
  34. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (YA)
  35. Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King (YA)
  36. La Línea by Ann Jaramillo (YA)
  37. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (YA)
  38. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (YA)
  39. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (YA) (N) (P)
  40. Autobiography of My Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers (YA)
  41. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (YA) (P)
  42. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (YA)
  43. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  44. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (YA)

For Christmas this year, I was given a few gift certificates for books with explicit instructions to spend them on books I want to read for myself, and not necessarily something to add to my classroom library. It’s so hard for me to choose to spend my money on adult contemporary or nonfiction knowing that while I might enjoy it, it probably won’t interest my 8th graders enough to put in my classroom. But there are lots of books I want to read that fit these categories. So I did it. I went out and bought five books (and was gifted one) that are just for me. My goal is to roughly go every-other with YA books and adult or nonfiction books.

Of course there are still YA books I would LOVE to add to my classroom library, so if you are feeling generous, you can always check out my classroom library Wish List that the students and I create.

I set my 2017 GoodReads goal to 40 books. I realize maybe I should take a risk and set it at 45 since I read 44 this year, but I tend to be conservative in my risk-taking. Like I said, I’m already on book number two for the year. I have to read just over three books per month to make my goal. I think I can do it!

Tell me, what should I add to my 2017 To Read List?

BabyFat by Pauline Campos {a review}

BabyFatCover1+copy-2I’ve written before about the fact that I struggle with my self-image– most specifically my weight. In college I was 5’7″, 125 pounds, and a size 6. I was exactly average. I often wished for a couple curves, but overall I was pretty happy.

Now I am a good 75 pounds over that, although I am not taller, and definitely not a size 6. Before having kids, it wasn’t hard for me to lose weight if I worked hard at it an cleaned up the food I was eating. Now, five pregnancies later, my body can’t seem to let go. Or maybe I am eating trash and never moving my body. It’s something.

One of the very first chapters of Pauline Campos’s book Baby Fat: Adventures in Motherhood, Muffin Tops, and Trying to Stay Sane addresses this phrase: “you look good considering…”

hate this phrase. Because I know what “considering” means. I know why I look like I do. Why can’t people just stop with “you look good!”

Obviously, from the start of the memoir I was nodding right along.  In Baby Fat, Campos chronicles her weight loss (and gain) journey post-baby. And she does NOT hold back. She bares it all: every success and failure, every positive and negative thought. She is funny, but real.

While I can’t relate to the food sensitivities or allergies her family has, I totally know what it’s like to have the best intentions only to stumble into a pile of Twix. As Campos told herself, “Tomorrow will be different…” How many times have I repeated this mantra to myself (including last night when I riffled through the boys’ Halloween candy in search of chocolate paired with caramel)?

The book reads like Campos is giving you a peek into her diary, complete with date headings. And as you read, you feel like it too. Campos is not afraid to drop a swear word and let us know how she really feels about all the point-counting, calorie-watching she tries to do. One of my favorite lines straight from one of her chapter titles: “Diet is a bad, bad word”.

From my experience, the thing that really worked for me was cleaning up my eating habits, not going on a diet. Toward the end of her book, it seems that Campos is finding out the exact same thing. Of course knowing and doing are two entirely different things; something Campos and I also have in common.  It became obvious the more I read, the more we had in common in this battle of the bulge.

Even more clear is the message of accepting yourself for who you are NOW. Pauline struggles throughout her memoir to lose weight, but she makes it very clear that she loves her curves and she loves herself. This is something I need to work on more.

I have been trying to look at myself every day and list things that I love about me, and I really try to find one physical thing each day. Today it was my eyes, in case you wanted to know. I have pretty great blue eyes.

Anyway, you should check out Baby Fat. Not just because I liked it, but because it’s a quick, funny read that I think lots of women will relate to. Also because one of my tweets made chapter 26. But mostly because you will like the book.

Two lucky people are going to WIN the book! One will get a paper copy and one an e-copy! Enter in the Rafflecopter Widget below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I was not paid to review this book, but Pauline is a friend of mine and sent me a free e-copy. My post is full of my honest opinions. The link is an affiliate, so if you buy her book I get like 10 cents or something. I’ll probably use it to buy more books for my classroom library.

Open Boxes by Christine Organ

Book coverThe book Open Boxes by Christine Organ is not just another feel-good book meant to tell you how to connect with your inner spiritual flower child. It is an inspirational collection of essays that demonstrates how our every day lives are filled with beautiful grace, amazing wonder, and incredible miracles.

I will admit when I read the description of the book, I figured it would be one of those hippie-dippie books that gives me instruction about how I can meditate and self-love my way into a happier, calmer life. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it wasn’t so much didactic as it was inspirational.

Organ postulates that our lives are like a series of tightly sealed, organized boxes that we file away, keeping separated from other parts of our lives. In order to lead a more connected, spiritually peaceful life, we should open those boxes and make connections. She organizes the personal essays in the book into the three ways she imagines the boxes being opened and shared: Grace, Wonder, and Miracles.

Early in my reading, I found myself grabbing for my pencil, marking up the book as I read, dog-earring pages to come back to. Rarely do I identify so much with someone else’s spiritual journey. Mine has always felt very unique in that it all took place–is taking place–in my own head. Organ’s journey is very similar in that she embraces her doubts.

“We have doubts and questions. We see inconsistencies, and there are times when we don’t know what to believe. But there is no shame in admitting the presence of spiritual doubts. In fact, acknowledging doubts is a critical part of an authentic faith” (73).

She also recognizes the need to be vulnerable and take chances in order to be our best and produce our best. I struggle with this in my writing as well as in my teaching, mothering, and wife-ing I know that in order to do the great things I have dreamed about my whole life, I have to open myself up. I have to allow mistakes and criticism. But it’s so hard. Organ says, “The prickliness of vulnerability is a touch of pain accompanied by the feeling of freedom that comes from having done something truly authentic, personal, and unabashed” (61).

The other areas of the book, Wonder and Miracles, are no less inspiring.

“Sometimes the weight of wonder is just too much, the awe too overwhelming, for me to grasp” (127).

From her faith journey to her struggles with vulnerability to her miscarriage and learning to embrace self-care, I kept finding more ways to personally connect with Organ. But probably the most significant connection I felt to her was in the way she describes wonder and miracles.

Every day I marvel in wonder at a million things, but at the top of the list are my children. Not a day goes by that I don’t run my fingers over Alice’s sleeping face or Charlie’s fingers or through Eddie’s hair. The fact that I have them is a miracle, and watching them grow and learn is a wonder.

She even touches on prayer in the Miracles section, but it’s not in the way you think. Organ does not talk about times she prayed for miracles and they happened.  Nope. Instead she discusses the “tricky” nature of prayer–who is it really for? What is it supposed to do? She muses that prayer is not for changing circumstances, but for giving the person doing the praying a different perspective on those circumstances. For providing a peace. She even likens prayer to a form of therapy.

I could go on and on. This book is beautiful. I personally connected to so much. Not everything, but enough that it kept me reading and nodding and marking up the pages with “ME TOO!”

If you are in a funk emotionally or spiritually, I recommend Open Boxes. Even if you are not, it’s a lovely read that will reaffirm what you know and help you to believe in the miracles and wonder of this world we live in, this life we have been graced with. It will help you mentally open boxes and see all the ways we are all connected.

Open Boxes is available at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, nor are the links affiliate links. I was sent a copy of the book to read and review, but all opinions are my own.

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